The History of the Match and the Perspective From One Medical Student’s Journey
By Hilary McCrary, MPH
Throughout all of medical school, I always looked up to the current fourth year students. They seemed so seasoned and prepared to make the transition from student to doctor. The fourth year of medical school is also highly anticipated, as it is what medical students perceive as the first time they are solely focusing on their chosen career and traveling across the country for either away rotations or interviews. Now that I am towards the end of this process, I have had time to reflect on all of the components that go into the Match and what is takes to get there.
The Match process was created in 1952 as a way to address concerns related to institutions offering a spot for residency training earlier than other competing institutions.1 This previous design put pressure on applicants to accept multiple appointments, as positions were typically offered over the phone with the intent of providing the institution an immediate answer or losing that training spot.1 This process was followed by attempts to make a uniform time for institutions to release intern positions. Ultimately, F.J. Mullin from the University of Chicago School of Medicine suggested that both students and institutions create rank-order lists that would end in a match between that individual and a hospital.2 There were growing pains associated with this transition, but the Boston Pool algorithm created a stable process in which the rank-order lists were updated as each student went through the matching process. This program became known as the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) and is the program that is still used today.3 The most recent change to this matching algorithm came in 1998, which was aimed at making the outcomes as favorable as possible for the applicant.4 In fact, in 2012 economists Alvin Roth and Lloyd Shapley would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Economics for their contributions to creating a stable match process through their work on match theory.5 While some controversy surrounded the inception of the Match, it does provide applicants and hospitals a sensible system to determine where new physicians will spend several years of training. As attested by several students, even though not all individuals may get their top pick on Match Day, the system has a way of finding the program best suited for each individual.
While every specialty has its own unique aspects to the Match, there is one piece of advice that I always listened to – apply broadly. As a student applying to Otolaryngology, I knew that I needed to apply to a large number of diverse programs. This serves two purposes. It allows the student to see enough programs to know what aspects of a training program will most suit their needs and it sets you up for success statistically, as the more programs you apply to the higher your odds are of matching. I applied to 70 programs across the nation, which seemed daunting at first. The process of receiving interviews was exciting and stressful. In the fall months, students receive a flurry of interviews via email, and typically must respond within minutes or that interview spot may be taken. As someone who was on a surgical rotation during this time, I found it hard to be in the operating room without worrying about what emails were popping up on my phone.
Then comes the fun part – the traveling. As someone who loves flying and exploring new places, I was most excited for this aspect of applying to residency. In total, I attended 17 interviews, in 13 different states, over the course of three months. What no one prepared me for was how exhausting this process is. There were periods of time where I had four interviews in just five days, often associated with several flight delays and arriving at my destination city in the early hours of the morning. Furthermore, this process was financially difficult as well, as this entire process cost thousands of dollars. While in the thick of the interview trail I felt challenged, however, looking back it was an incredible experience that I felt lucky to partake in. Especially since I was given the opportunity to meet my future colleagues that I will collaborate with in the future, whether this is clinically or on research endeavors.
Now I join thousands of other medical students and wait to see where this process leads me on Match Day – March 17, 2017, which happens to land on St. Patrick’s Day this year. After a lot of thought and reflection, my rank-order list is certified and waiting for processing. What I have learned is there is no right way to navigate the Match and at the end of the day it’s best to go with your gut. Really listen to what your intuition is telling you on an interview day and make sure to ask questions that are important to you. Take risks, as programs you never thought would be what you are looking for or be within your reach might be the perfect fit for you. Finally, seek advice from your mentors who understand your career goals; their insight can be invaluable in helping create your rank-order list. Best of luck to all medical students and future surgeons participating in the Match this year!
1) Roth AE. The Origins, History, and Design of the Resident Match. JAMA. 2003;289(7):909-912.
2) Mullin FJ. A proposal for supplementing the Cooperative Plan for appointment of interns. J Assoc Am Med Coll.1950;25:437-442.
3) Roth AE. The evolution of the labor market for medical interns and residents: a case study in game theory. J Political Economy.1984;92:991-1016.
4) Roth AE, Peranson E. The redesign of the matching market for American physicians: some engineering aspects of economic design. Am Econ Rev.1999;89:748-780.
5) Rampell C. “2 From U.S. Win Nobel in Economics”. The New York Times. Published October 15, 2012. Accessed on February 11, 2017.
Hilary McCrary is the Chair of the AWS Medical Student Committee and is a fourth year medical student at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson. She is currently applying to otolaryngology and hopes to practice in an academic setting where she can operate, teach, and conduct research. firstname.lastname@example.org
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